Lueders to be tried on five felony counts in early 2020
BRIDGEPORT, Connecticut––Former Bully Breed Rescue president Heidi Lueders, 31, on October 11, 2019 rejected a plea bargain to lesser charges, and instead is to go to trial at an unspecified date in early 2020 on five felony counts of cruelty to animals for allegedly allowing five caged pit bulls to starve to death in her rented home.
Lueders allegedly continued to live in the home with her personal pit bull while the five caged pit bulls were dying, and for months after they were dead and decomposing.
The prosecution on September 9, 2019 offered Lueders the opportunity to plead guilty to five misdemeanor counts of cruelty instead of the felonies, and to serve 30 months in prison, rather than the potential maximum of five years per conviction that she now will face.
Waived jury trial
Also on October 11, 2019, Lueders waived her right to a jury trial, in favor of going to trial before a judge.
Attorney Ken Bernhard, a former Connecticut state assembly member appointed to represent the deceased dogs’ interests, told News 12 reporter Marissa Alter that, “If I were her, I would have taken [the plea bargain]. I think the difference between looking at a felony conviction and having the guarantee of a misdemeanor on my record in the long term would have been better,” Bernhard explained.
Lueders’ attorney Rob Serafinowicz, however, told Alter that trial before a judge is the “best option that we had with what we were presented with.”
At an earlier hearing, on July 15, 2019, Serafinowicz told Superior Court Judge Frank Iannotti that he and Lueders had not found a medical expert to support the insanity defense she was initially expected to pursue.
High-profile criminal defender
Lueders’ court appearances have consistently come before galleries packed with other pit bull advocates, animal advocates in general, and the merely curious.
Her attorney, Serafinowicz, is a controversial figure himself, having defended many other high-profile clients in criminal cases since 2004, and having been professionally disciplined for denouncing a judge on the steps of the Derby courthouse in 2014.
The pit bulls whose deaths brought the felony charges against Lueders were discovered by police on November 11, 2018.
Animals R Family, a Facebook entity which often appears to have detailed knowledge of incidents and events involving Lueders and Bully Breed Rescue ahead of news media, described the scene as “an ocean of garbage, junk, heroin packs, needles, trash, dog feces and dog urine everywhere.”
Checked into private mental hospital
Instead of surrendering to police immediately after the cruelty and property damage charges were filed, Lueders according to Animals R Family “checked herself into Silver Hill Hospital in New Canaan,” described as “a very expensive drug addiction and psychiatric hospital, used by celebrities including Catherine Zeta Jones, Mariah Carey, Michael Jackson and Billy Joel.”
Lueders apparently remained there, her family believed to have been paying the bills, until January 15 2019. Fairfield Police Captain Robert Kalamaras told media the following morning that she had voluntarily turned herself in, and had been released after posting bond of $50,000.
Lueders’ situation soon became more complicated when on the evening of January 29, 2019 she was arrested “on charges of [third degree] assault, threatening and disorderly conduct following a domestic dispute,” reported Marissa Alter.
These charges, apparently still pending, came only hours after Lueders won a two-week postponement of arraignment on the cruelty charges against her, which were initially filed as misdemeanors but in February 2019 were upgraded to felonies.
Lueders was, however, in mid-February 2019 again released from jail into the custody of her family.
Lueders has not been charged with any alleged offenses pertaining to illegal drug use and/or misuse of funds donated to Bully Breed Rescue, both of which have been extensively claimed on social media by former associates of Lueders.
Bully Breed Rescue
Bully Breed Rescue, now legally dissolved, was founded in 2005 by Benedicta “Bennie” McGrath, McGrath, an attorney formerly practicing in New Canaan, Connecticut. Lueders became involved as a volunteer in 2007. Retiring to Florida in 2013, McGrath turned the presidency of Bully Breed Rescue over to Lueders, whose mother Peggy Anderson Lueders joined the Bully Breed Rescue board of directors.
Heidi Lueders’ tenure as Bully Breed Rescue president included both a high-profile media presence and allegations from fellow rescuers and neighbors that she neglected dogs, but the allegations were not supported by actual criminal charges.
In April 2015 Heidi Lueders was reportedly charged in Stamford, Connecticut for disorderly conduct and criminal mischief for her part in a fight with the ex-wife of her then-boyfriend, Eric Stahl, then 38. Stahl, who had at least two prior arrests for comparable alleged offenses, was charged with criminal mischief, conspiracy to commit strangulation and breach of peace.
Lueders admitted to puncturing two tires with a pocket knife in the incident precipitating the fight, according to the arrest affidavit.
Lueders’ pit bull bit woman
In August 2015, wrote New Canaan News reporter Martin B. Cassidy, Lueders “was charged with third-degree assault, disorderly conduct and second-degree reckless endangerment, and Melanie Numa, 19,” a Norwalk veterinary technician, “was charged with disorderly conduct, according to New Canaan Police Lieutenant Jason Ferraro.
“Police were called by Lueders and Numa,” Cassidy explained, “who reported being assaulted and robbed,” but “After [police] investigating, it was determined that Lueders and Numa were the aggressors, confronting the victim about money that was owed, Ferraro said.”
Continued Cassidy, “During the incident Numa attacked the woman, Ferraro said. When the woman’s 25-year-old boyfriend came to her defense, Lueders allegedly grabbed him by the neck with both hands, Ferraro said. “At some point, a 70-pound pit bull owned by Lueders was let out of a car and bit the 22-year-old Norwalk woman’s leg, Ferraro said. The boyfriend of the woman gave Lueders and Numa the $100, Ferraro said.”